Christchurch: one of the ‘worlds top 50 cities to visit 2020’ – my quake city revisited

PHOTO attribution: CathedralSquare 2402 By Gabriel Flickr Cathedral Square

It’s some eight or nine years ago that Fodor commissioned me to write about my city – back then we locals were using terms such as ‘the city that shakes’ or ‘shaken not stirred’ and ‘Christchurch rocks’.  Christchurch still rocks but in a very different way – it’s great.

In August, this year, one travel writer likened a tram ride in Christchurch to an amusement ride through a disaster zone – I totally disagree as do many others: it is the only New Zealand entry in ‘The 50 Friendliest Cities In The World’ (7th) and it’s also  the only New Zealand destination to make it into Fodor’s list of the top 52 places to visit in 2020. I suggest you put it on your bucket list.

Christchurch’s inclusion on Fodor’s Go List 2020 ‘seems to stem in large part from its response to the tragedies that have happened there over the past decade’ said one writer.

“South Island’s largest city is back – and better than ever,” the guide declares, adding that it has “wasted no time getting back on its feet after” after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes and 2019 terror attack.

“Not only is Christchurch considered the ‘friendliest city in New Zealand’, according to a 2019 poll, but the evolving metropolis rewards visitors with colonial-era British architecture, enormous parks, panoramic gondola rides, relaxing boat tours down the Avon River, and an exploding public art scene that emerged after the earthquakes.”  (Stuff)

However, for many, there is still some confusion as to why many buildings have not yet been replaced, and in particular, the Christchurch Cathedral still sits in ruins.

Every local has an opinion about the cathedral – from knock it down to, restore it totally, keep some old parts and build something new attached to it, get rid of any cathedral in the square, and many variations on those themes.

Pre quake photos:

Christchurch Cathedral and Chalice before the quake damage
Interior of the cathedral. Ever seen a pavlova in a cathedral with rugby’s Bledisloe Cup?
Christchurch cathedral … in the square

Being Christchurch born, and having lived through hundreds of quakes I too have an opinion – I believed the cathedral should be reinstated – using their insurance money – it, plus the ‘Square’ itself, had played an important role over the previous 100 years.  Because of irreparable damage to many of our Gothic buildings, I believed it was important to maintain as much heritage as we could.

The February 2011 earthquake destroyed the Cathedral‘s spire, part of the tower, and the structure of the remaining building.  On the day of the quake, much more of the tower was deliberately demolished as it was thought that people were trapped inside – luckily this wasn’t so, and the rest of the tower was demolished in March 2012.  When the church started using a wrecking ball on the cathedral, a court injunction was taken out to stop that work – many people believed it should be demolished, piece by piece, numbering the stones so it could be rebuilt.

Later in 2011, after-shocks meant a steel structure – intended to stabilise the rose window – actually destroyed it and the Anglican Church decided to demolish the building and replace it with a new structure.  The church did not consult with locals despite years and years of no, or little city rates – a subsidy paid for by locals, who also helped pay for repairs and a new roof. This made many people angry, resulting in court cases and fundraising to help save the cathedral.

Christchurch Diocesan Synod announced that Christ Church Cathedral would be reinstated after promises of extra grants and loans from local and central government.

The church also says the start of restoration will begin in 2020 and “For most people, the reinstated Cathedral will appear unchanged with its important heritage features retained.  It will be safer, more functional, more flexible and more comfortable.  It will be better equipped for future worship and civic events.”

And, as for the other gaps in the city-scape, many owners of those buildings have chosen not to build for many reasons.  Some will be land-banking them, others will be waiting for the convention centre to be finished (late 2020), while others may be waiting to see what’s missing in the city, what’s needed, and then build that.  Many people have said, this wouldn’t happen in Hong Kong, or Singapore – true, but New Zealand has a democracy, and surprisingly, everyone who owns those pieces of land, often converted to car parks right now, actually can make up their own mind as to what, and when, to redevelop.

I can tell you that one building site, on Armagh Street (beside New Regent Street) will not be started for a few months.  A large flock of our endangered black-billed gulls is nesting among the concrete and reinforcing wire – as they are protected, nothing will happen to this site until they’ve finished nesting, and if they come back in spring next year, the site will remain undeveloped.  An eyesore for many, but possibly a lifesaver for these gulls!

I nested at The Classic Villa, which some years ago was transformed from an Italian style historic home to a 5-star boutique hotel in the cultural precinct of our city centre.

[Note I relocated to Wellington, a decision made in May 2010, some 2-months after the first, and biggest, 7.4 quake on the 4th September 2010 – see photos taken in my inner-city neighbourhood then]

 

 

 

 

Breakfree, WORD, and a Piano!

20160130_104623Staying in this ever-changing, emerging city is, for me, best done by having accommodation in the city centre, so thought I’d tell you about the hotel I was hosted in earlier this year. Breakfree on Cashel (Street) impressed me as soon as I arrived as, the electric jug was easily able to be inserted under a tap for filling: why is this simple thing so rare around the world!20160130_100324

See more I wrote about this hotel which I can recommend … and not because they hosted me for two or three days!

More and more is opening in post-quake-five-years-on Christchurch and I’m excited to be going down again in a couple of weeks – this time for the WORD Writers and Readers Festival in the newly opened The Piano Centre for Music and the Arts( official opening in Sept) at the end of New Regent St and directly behind The Isaac Theatre Royal

Isaac Theatre Royal
Isaac Theatre Royal
The Piano as it was in February 2016
The Piano as it was in February 2016

Christchurch’s Arts Centre reopening soon – hurrah

I thought I’d repost this piece so visitors to Christchurch know the Arts Centre needs to be on your bucket-list esp. as the Great Hall has reopened. I will be back in the city in a few weeks to check out many events at the WORD Readers & Writers festival and will absolutely be off to the Art Centre which is one of my favourite haunts.

Kiwi Travel Writer talks food, travel, and tips

Over the past five years, returning to the city of my birth, Christchurch, New Zealand, was often like returning to school – but the old three R’s rule of reading, writing and ’rithmetic had been replaced with different R’s – I often had to ask if it has been reopened, renovated, relocated or reduced-to-rubble. Unfortunately, with something like 80% of the inner-city, my old stomping ground, demolished because of quake damage, many were reduced to rubble or relocated.

Of course many of my favourites have another R as they remained-open or have reopened after minor damage was repaired, while a few had to close temporarily while neighbouring buildings were ‘de-constructed’.

A few of my special city-centre places in the remained open (or just closed briefly) category are, The Classic Villa; Canterbury Museum; Botanic Gardens; and The Antigua Boat Sheds.

Two months before the September 2010 quakes, a mayoral candidate said…

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Christchurch: nearly a Gothic Revival UNESCO World Heritage Site

web museumAbout two months before the September 2010 quakes, a Christchurch mayoral candidate, Jim Anderton, said if he became mayor he would push for Christchurch to have World Heritage Status for the city’s unique Gothic Revival buildings. It appeared that no city in the world had a more complete collection of Gothic revival buildings of such high quality and so well-preserved.

I attended a meeting, in the Gothic Arts Centre, to hear about such a proposal. He said, “these Victorian buildings date back to the 1850s and, as a group, are of enormous international significance. They represent the outcome of the furthest migration of any group of people in human history.” Apparently, Canterbury was the last and most successful of the colonisation schemes of Edward Gibbon Wakefield.

Anderton continued, “They are more than bricks and mortar, they are at the heart of our city and remind us every day of those pioneers searching for a better world on the other side of the globe.” I left the meeting having decided to vote for Jim because of this proposal.

Repairs and strengthening well underway
Repairs and strengthening are well under way

Early European settlers of course bought their values with them and expressed some of that in their architecture and appreciation of open spaces – which was also happening in New York where Central Park was just being established too.  [interestingly, and nothing to do with the meeting or the Gothic buildings, I believe the land which became the Botanic Gardens was given to the city by the Scottish Deans brother’s – they wanted a barrier between them, and Riccarton, and the new English arrivals – I’m sure many of the local tangata whenua would have liked the same.]

Over three decades many Gothic revival buildings – built in local grey stone – and none of which were exact copies of the English versions . This and the scale as well as the use of timber, started a city with its own characteristics, not a replica of what they’d left.

The Canterbury quakes (2010/11) of course put this UNESCO proposal on the back burner, however, many of the proposed sites consist of the most significant 19th century public buildings associated with the founding of the city have not been demolished because of the quakes: these include Christchurch Cathedral, (although still under review) the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings, (the only complete surviving examples of government buildings from the provincial period of colonial society in New Zealand) and the former Canterbury University, previously Canterbury College and now the Arts Centre, and both are now being restored and quake-proofed.

The Canterbury Museum had received a lot of quake strengthening work and it suffered minimal damage during the quakes.

Council Chambers
Council Chambers

The 1865 Council Chambers is internationally recognized as an outstanding example of High Victorian Gothic architecture, and on a personal level, is where my first book launch was held and is on the list to be restored, as is the old Presbyterian Trinity Church which for many years has been a restaurant.

St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (now at Rangi Ruru School), built in a simple, and wooden, Gothic style in the late 1800s: my parents, grandparents, and many more of my ancestors  married in this church – a reminder that not all Christchurch settlers were English.

Other inner-city Gothic buildings surviving the quakes include Christ’s College, and sort of surviving, the facades post office in the square and the former A.J. White’s building in High Street.

Not in the city, but Gothic nevertheless, was a prosaic Gothic building, the old Addington Prison which is now backpacker accommodation known of course as the Jailhouse! Naturally, with my ‘colourful’ background, I have history here too – having picked up people there, who were no longer guests of the state, and have stayed in the backpackers.

*See recent posts about the quakes – an elephant in the room and one about Christchurch as it is.

 

Is there an elephant in the room? Christchurch, New Zealand

 

As part of my upcoming series of blogs about Christchurch let’s first talk about the elephant in the room. In other words, the earthquakes that shook my city in 2010 – 2011.

I left Christchurch some eight weeks after the September 2010 quake, not because of the 7.3 quake or its many aftershocks, but a decision that had been made in May that year. Since then, I have returned to Christchurch on dozens of occasions so, although I have not lived through the many but normal aftershocks, I have closely seen the devastation wrought on my city.

My roots are deep in this wonderful city: my Cornish maternal roots arrived here in 1862, while my Scottish paternal roots arrived in 1873 – and there they remained, planted and flourishing on the stony plains and peninsula ever since. During this series of blogs, I will be talking about Christchurch as it is post-quake, as well as linking it to my past.

My frequent trips down from Wellington, and usually staying in the city centre, means I’ve watched the continuing journey as a new city emerges. Let’s not pull any punches, Christchurch will never be the old Christchurch again. While I mourn this loss I also celebrate the new – as it is emerging. Those seismic shocks have and are certainly changing the face of the city.

An air of creativity and innovation flows through the city but unfortunately it seems many locals are not aware of this, and say they don’t come into the city as there is nothing to do. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Tourists, and those working in the city centre, are well aware of many things to do. Some of it involves quake tourism of course, for others it’s checking out the huge artworks around the CBD, taking their kids to the magnificent Margaret Mahy playground, promenading, dining and shopping along New Regent Street, which I believe, is now Christchurch’s oldest retail area.

One thing I became very aware of during my last visit (February 2016) is how many tourists still find the devastation hard to handle and often only stay a night or two. One of the difficulties for them seems to be they are unsure what is actual ‘quake damage’ and what has been demolished ‘because of’ the quake. (NOTE: I again suggest the council or some other such body create a historic plaque to state “This building is a quake survivor’ for building owners to use).

It also seems that many find the city-wide building sites noisy and annoying, whereas I see them as a sign of vitality of the city and positive growth. Unfortunately, it seems travellers many arrive at the airport grab their campervan or rental car and take off, heading south or west. Many I spoke to said they’d been told by people in other parts of New Zealand ‘there is nothing to see down there.’ Most said they were thrilled they had ignored the ill informed advice.

Nice curves on one of the new buildings
Nice curves on one of the new buildings

To learn about the quake, I can absolutely recommend Quake City, a Canterbury Museum project, on Cashel Mall. Our city centre lost 80% of its buildings, not because they fell down, but because they had to be demolished as being unsafe, this means Christchurch has had much of its history erased.

The sad deaths, from the February 2011 6.3 quake, occurred mostly in two relatively modern buildings which did collapse. The artwork of white chairs as a memorial to them is  on the site of my old church: St Paul’s Trinity Pacific, which growing up as a city kid, was the church I attended, and married in, and in those days was just called St Paul’s: it too was a quake casualty.

So, whether you live in Christchurch, or are visiting for a few days, make sure you see the real city centre and learn our history, not just the oft-repeated, lazy writing about Christchurch, as being conservative, just like England, or other such nonsense, this is a new city, developing new roots, and growing on top of our old foundations.

As well is reading some of the many books, stories, and poems that have sprung up post-quake you can also follow my blogs about Christchurch, so I can introduce you to the new as well is the old. Don’t forget many of our buildings (20% remember) survived, albeit most needing repairs, some major, some minor, but we still have many of our wonderful Gothic buildings in use.

So yes the ‘elephant in the room’, our seismic shakes, have jolted us, have left many traumatised, homes and businesses are gone, but a new, hopefully greener, city is emerging, and despite, or because of, my deep roots in Christchurch I celebrate that new city and feel excited every time something old reopens, or something new opens. Of course I am sad that much of my personal history is gone,  however, looking over my shoulder at something no longer there is wasting time and energy that I prefer to use positively.

Despite now living in Wellington, I’m a Cantabrian through and through, one-eyed, wearing red and black, and cheering on our sports teams, and the rebuild!  However, this does not mean I wear pink coloured glasses when writing about the city. At times I have been and will be critical, especially at locals who voice many opinions about the inner city, despite not having visited the CBD for months, or even years; a heavy-handed government making decisions they have no right to make, or delay; and the Anglican church for the damage their wrecking ball inflicted on the cathedral, and the continuing damage they are allowing by not closing the building to the elements. I believe they caused more damage than the quakes did.

Next week: our gothic buildings.

Thank-you to Breakfree On Cashel for hosting me during part of my stay in the city.

Detail of the Chalice - public art in'the square'
Detail of the Chalice – public art in the square

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gap filler in post-quake Christchurch

Gap Filler have been active in Christchurch since the 2010/11 quakes and have fostered the arts in many ways and have helped keep Cantabrians entertained and involved in many many ways. A big shout-out to all the volunteers who have given us all so much pleasure.

Here are some photos I took of the Pallet Pavillion  (2013)  on the site of the ‘once was’ Crowne Plaza – now to relocate about a block away.

Simo, who had a  fabulous restaurant in the Crowne now has other fabulous places to eat out despite being quake-shaken from two other places.

Post-quake update from Christchurch, New Zealand

Christchurch locals love their gardens and often call it ‘the garden city’. Since the September 2010 quake we locals have added another nickname ‘the city that rocks’ – a saying of resilience and pride!

Thought it was time I gave you another post-quake update and background to this city of the plains down-under in New Zealand.

Because of the dry alluvial plains we farm on, Canterbury farmers and locals consider our grass-fed lamb to be the juiciest and best in the world, and over-the-hill on volcanic Banks Peninsula there are many places you can taste the ‘earthy, fruity and spicy wines at vineyards or picnic by the sea with crackers and local cheddar, havarti or gouda from the historic (1800s) cheese factory.

We consider we’re pretty cultured too and keep producing people who are prominent in the NZ and international contemporary music scenes: opera, rock, jazz, and rap are specialities.  Love books? Make sure you grab a bus and visit the hillside home of Dame Ngaio Marsh, the international ‘Queen of Crime’ and see where she plotted and wrote her ‘who dun-its’.

Artist Rita Angus is a favourite daughter: her small piece Cass, in which she evocatively portrayed the bare emptiness of our Canterbury landscape, and has been voted ‘NZ’s favourite painting’ My favourite current artist is Marie Le Lievre,  of course as a friend I’m unashamedly biased – however,  as she’s got  exhibitions this year in these galleries: Wellington, NZ; Sydney, Australia; and Paris, France I’m obviously not the only one who think she’s great.

Maori and settlers started the first city centre in Market Place, now Victoria Square and Maori continue to add to the city. Check out ancient and modern Maori culture performances at either Ko Tane or Tamaki Heritage VillageRestart - Cashel Mall

Since the quake our new city centre is the colourful and vibrant container shopping centre in Cashel Mall – a must visit.

A few things you need to know about my home city: Christchurch woman Kate Sheppard was prime organiser of the petition that lead to New Zealand women being first in the world to get the vote in 1896.  19th September is celebrated each year – she’s on New Zealand’s $10 note.

The first organised settlers arrived here in 1850 and because it had a cathedral, Christchurch became a city by Royal Charter on July 31, 1856, making it officially the oldest established city in New Zealand – of course as I write, sadly this piece of our history is being demolished

And, despite some inner city hotels being demolished and rebuilt, there are plenty of places to stay from The Jailhouse back-packer – an award-winning backpacker in funky and trendy Addington – through to another place that’s also been converted. The Classic Villa has been transformed from an Italian style historic home, to a 5-star boutique hotel in the cultural precinct of our city centre. Just two of many!

See this link for up-to-date official Christchurch tourist info